Back to Top

The facts about Liberate Laguna

Here is the origin of Liberate Laguna: we got tired of being bullied.

The “we” is Cindy Shopoff, Sam Goldstein and me. We are the founders of Liberate Laguna.

We all were bullied by the City of Laguna Beach, its Design Review Board, Heritage Committee, Planning Commission and City Council – all out of control and dedicated toward making us and everyone like us miserable, we feel.

So we organized and created Liberate Laguna (LL), a nonprofit corporation dedicated to educating the public about our positions; separately, it has an associated legal Political Action Committee (PAC) spending money to elect the candidates and public initiatives of our choice.

There are five big things we support: 

1. One’s home should be placed on a Historic List if and only if one desires it.  (This mirrors the position of Let Laguna Live, a nonprofit dedicated to this one subject and not associated with LL.)

2. Right now, the Design Review Board (DRB), which must approve all new building projects, has unlimited and arbitrary power. Even the City’s website states the DRB can take into consideration anything it wants and it can deny your project for any reason at all. This is maddening. Instead, we believe the DRB should have fixed rules, which if followed, will allow one to skip the DRB in its entirety. No more arbitrary power. If one wants variances, then fine, go through DRB, but it still must have fixed rules, and its Members must treat each applicant with respect and dignity.

3. Laguna’s retail business community is dying. It is not because of the Internet. It is because the City has so over-regulated the approval process, retail businesses by-pass Laguna entirely. Instead, they go to CdM, Dana Point, Irvine, or just about anywhere else in light of Laguna’s extreme hostility. So, LL believes a small Laguna retailer should only have to pull a business license, get building plans approved over-the-counter, and get started. Get it moving.

4. We believe there should be term limits for City Council Members and all committees and commissions. This will ensure that new blood and new ideas continually would rejuvenate this town.

5. We cannot stop the massive influx of tourists, but we can build parking structures to get their cars off the streets. Such structures can and should be built near downtown businesses and in other places where there are park & ride opportunities.   Fun fact: for the last twenty years, no new parking lots or structures have been built, and now the new “City Entrance” will eliminate over 100 parking places.

So there you have it, our five basic positions. We have endorsed two candidates, Peter Blake and Sue Kempf, because we believe they best reflect our thinking. Neither sought our endorsement, nor, I think, particularly even wants it. 

If anyone does not like our positions, fine, bring on your arguments. However, please do not lie about us.

And that brings me to the crux. Village Laguna (VL) helped the city obtain a green belt surrounding Laguna. This was in the 1980s and ‘90s and was a great accomplishment; VL rightly should be proud of it. After that, something probably predictable happened, it seems.

VL had tasted success, and its offspring, power, and wanted more. So, it organized, got more power and, voila, has in the opinion of many including myself, controlled this town for most of the last three decades. 

Village Laguna is adamantly opposed to all of Liberate Laguna’s five positions. Further, it appears to feel threatened. We certainly get this. VL has been the dominant political and ideological player for years, and now Liberate Laguna comes out of nowhere? Why are they here? What do they want? 

Those are legitimate questions and our five positions should answer them. We believe VL’s influence has been too great and as a result, the city, and its residents, have suffered.

We at LL happily will debate our five positions and argue their merits with VL or any other group.

But please, Village Laguna, do not lie about us. Do not lie that LL wants to pave over Laguna. Do not lie that LL wants to destroy our special culture with Miami-style high-rises.

Argue your positions and we will argue ours, but do not lie.

Michael Ray

Laguna Beach

Liberate all of Laguna from special interest big money political action committees

Both Liberate Laguna (LL) and Village Laguna (VL) share the same traits...only pick two candidates in order to ‘’take over’’ our City Council. We have in fact three seats open. Voters hopefully are distrustful of both groups’ antics. I am an independent candidate for Council 2018. Only Democrats got interviewed (anointed) by one special interest group and the other just cut off interviews...a farce. 

The current campaign finance city law 1.14 was written for and of the now creepy Village Laguna. This law is most likely unconstitutional as it restricts individual contribution[s] to a council candidate. Any PAC has unlimited campaign fundraising. Presently, the so-called “new kid”, Liberate salivates to embrace this campaign finance law. They admit using big money political action committees with unlimited amounts by big money donors. Wow!

Just an interesting footnote about this possibly illegal finance law. 1. It prevents individual unlimited contributions to make a recall vote. 2. The law does not allow a spouse [or domestic partner] to make unlimited separate property money contributions to their significant other. Laguna made a law against Love! Ha. 

Yes, our Laguna is damaged inside and out by the big money that seeks to subvert the real majority of our Laguna voters’ choice. I urge Laguna to pick on the ballot a third choice and screw up the diabolical forces of local politics.

Paul Merritt

Laguna Beach

The Right Candidates…Choose wisely

This election is quite unique. Never before…our local City Council elections have two empty seats open and a third seat with an incumbent who many feel “didn’t quit gracefully” after 20 years of questionable decisions on property rights, how to address homelessness, City spending and hiring, voting on the Village Entrance and the resulting loss of parking…and so much more.

I’ve lived here 50+ years growing up through all our schools and only leaving for three years at Cal Poly SLO and two years at Canada Landscaping & Yukon Gold Mining. But, I always come back to my hometown and never before felt it’s more threatening our City viability and vibe than right now.

I just can’t stop looking over my shoulder for the next “foolish” and seemingly self-serving scheme City Councilwoman Iseman and candidate Christoph dream up spending our hard earned dollars on – like the Village Entrance, which candidate Kempf approved as a Planning Commissioner. 

Continuing schemes to bury our families financially…a bond debt for the next 25 years…their “Fire & Fear campaign” threatens homes our families should inherit. The undergrounding proposal is really about views and those who won’t pay their fair share versus the 80 percent who’ve already paid! There’s no logical evidence basis to put my hometown at risk with bonds (50 cents for $1 bonded). That’s bad financial advice by “Bondsman” Bob Whalen, who should exit next election too. This “deal” feels exploitative and shameful, in my opinion.

We’ve already mitigated potential fires since the 1993 October Fire – two new reservoirs, goat eating and man-made fuel modification zones that did their job, burned out before they reach us. We’ve got the finest Fire Department, new OC Choppers and Bombers as was evidenced during the Woods Canyon Preserve arson fire…a show of strength and confident firemen’s abilities…beautiful. We’re all safe – applaud as former OC Fireman watching! 

We’re already ready and have confidence. Vote with logic, facts and evidence of latest fire. Vote not with “fear & debt incurred for free views for others”. This isn’t just about safety. I suspect that many have “I Want it Now, Views for Free” selfish motives that would leave our future families paying for undergrounding technology almost obsolete.

No need to underground the Canyon, Caltrans is already doing their own work. Only foolish councilmembers would propose spending our tax dollars on this project.

Bryan Menne

Laguna Beach


I have recently heard accounts, from two separate people, that two female employees who work at the ASL were instructed to lie about speaking to me for about a half hour the second night I spent at the ASL. I was told they denied speaking to me but to ask me to leave. I asked Dawn Price of the Friendship Shelter to please let me speak to them. I have notes I took at the time. I told her I knew one of them was a psychology major and we discussed she had the same name as my grandmother. I told them a trick that if someone is hysterical, “you bear hug them and lift their feet off the ground.” It’s an old psychologist trick. It calms them immediately. 

However, this is all much to do about nothing. Dawn refuses to tell me who at the Friendship Shelter wrote the article. She just said “we” wrote it. Big deal. I can handle the BS. This is not why I’m so terribly sad. 

Three women living at the ASL came to me and told me that they were raped and sexually assaulted in the shelter by known sex offenders. They told me they have told the people at the shelter. The ASL is set up as one room. Women on one side and men on the other separated only by folding tables. After everyone is asleep, the predators go to work telling the women to be quiet. There are some good men who have stepped in, but the violations have continued. 

I looked up these men on These are registered, dangerous sex offenders. The women don’t think they will be believed because they know they are hated in town. I have even heard of sex trafficking happening, but haven’t dived into that topic yet. I’m trying to give confidence to these women to come forward, but naturally, the odds are against them. Why aren’t these men being checked before coming to the shelter? It takes a minute. I’ve been thinking a lot about the expression, “deer hunters go where the deer are.” These women are vulnerable and they often won’t be believed, despite the fact that the names they gave me of the violators checked out on the sex offenders’ list. 

We have people running around stealing signs. We have people gossiping about others and saying terrible things. People have said horrible things about me. We are worried about the inconvenience of traffic as businesses that have been here for years are loosing their stores because their rent has just increased. 

We are worried about traffic when the middle class, artists, seniors, students and the young professionals can’t get housing and are scared for their futures. A lot of people spend their time smiling at one another while turning around and trashing that person once their back is turned. 

There isn’t one millionaire in this town who didn’t get to where they are without help from someone. But that fact is easily forgotten. They are so scared their little worlds will be threatened. They are fueled by fear and are totally irrational. Or, maybe, they are worried the “wrong people” will be given the same opportunity in the High School that their children were blessed to have. God help their children if this is what is being taught to them. 

I’m an ordained minister and certified celebrant. I haven’t brought this up before because I believe in the separation of Church and State. I’m not a preacher. I consider myself a pastor who goes to where help is needed the most. On the subject of addiction, a crisis that claims lives daily, I can confidently say the Friendship Shelter is merely a revolving door. I took an oath. I don’t lie nor do I repeat the words of those who confide in me. I am not used to people calling themselves “Christians”. Where I come from, you are an Episcopalian or Methodist, and so on. But those who call themselves “Christians”, I challenge you to look at your actions when you bring people down. I challenge you to look in the mirror when you are only concerned with your own self-interest. 

If being new means I want to save this town from dying, and I want to breath new life into the village with vitality and young professionals and people who will love the little given to them, then so be it. Maybe I’m not right for this town – I don’t know. In the last few months, I’ve seen adults act worse than children, pointing fingers at everyone but themselves. They are scared and cowardly. They hide behind fake smiles and turn around, stabbing people in the back. I haven’t seen anything like this in all my life. The lack of humility and gratefulness, by some, is astonishing. 

I wanted to make a difference. I went to the ASL to find out if the homeless were being bussed here, and I fell down a rabbit hole. If you don’t want accessible housing, if you want corruption and you want an incredibly elite few holding all the power, don’t vote for me. I’ll disappoint you. I want a future for this town, not a bunch of middle-aged inheritors who will be left with homes and property they won’t be able to afford. 

I couldn’t care less if you are rich or poor. Don’t worry. I’m not trying to steal your bag of gold at night. Live behind your gates and walls. I’m a bridge builder. I hate exclusivity. You should know that before you cast your ballot. I want criminals in jail if they break the law, rich or poor. I want clean coastlines and to protect our incredibly beautiful land. But enough is enough. I’m angry at the lack of integrity and the blind eyes to the cruelty. 

To all my opponents – I have only the greatest respect for all of you. What you are doing is hard and thankless. You have all shown great courage. 

To the Establishment who are feeding off the taxpayers’ money and making backroom deals, I will stop you. I will call you out. I will no longer put up with any façades of kindness while I see you stab someone in the back. The problem with “going low” is that there is no bottom. When you “go high”, you occasionally get a Lincoln, a King...or an Obama. I will never be in that category, obviously. But, I can least try to walk in their footsteps. You get the Village you vote for; God bless Laguna Beach if this direction doesn’t change.

Allison Mathews

Laguna Beach

How desperate is Village Laguna?

Many feel Village Laguna has had a stranglehold on Laguna City Council for many, many years. Three current members were supported and financed by them to get elected. Three is the magic number to get anything passed or denied in City Council. Myself and many others believe Village Laguna is responsible for the mess that the city is in right now and the number of outsiders seeking election is a direct result of their mismanagement. 

So I find it hilarious that Toni Iseman, the only one of the current three up for election, has all of a sudden decided to do something about the issues that the new candidates have put forth, including the problem with homelessness. In her 20 years on the council she could have stepped up anytime with these issues. But it wasn’t Village Laguna’s agenda so no thought was given, it seems. Peter Blake was the first one to speak about the homeless and how we have a serious problem here. The current city council has done absolutely nothing to enforce our laws and get rid of the problem. They have kowtowed to the ACLU and not allowed our police to do their jobs. Now all of a sudden Toni is calling for steps to deal with the homeless, including keeping the ASL open more hours during the day. Wait – wasn’t that another candidate’s idea? Oh right – it was. Peter is also calling for cleaning up the permit process to make it resident friendly and to reform the design review process to actually allow people to build the homes they want. And magically Toni is now calling for the same thing. Ann Christoph, the other Village Laguna candidate, is saying essentially the same thing. Hmmmmn – wasn’t she also on the City Council and could have done something?

Vote for Peter Blake – the man who actually had the ideas and will make sure they are followed through on.

Jeanette Huber

Laguna Beach

Cleo Street resident strongly opposed to “Cleo Project”

Please everyone watch out for the Cleo Project.

A massive new hotel is being planned to replace the Holiday Inn and the adjacent 14 WEST Boutique Hotel. Both properties are owned by the developer.

The schedule for review and approval of the concept is coming fast! 

Staking of the Cleo Project is on October 25. 

The City Staff report to Planning Commission is on November 2, according to the City’s website.

Public review and comment at the Planning Commission meeting is on November 7.

So we, the public, will have but 14 days to analyze staking and 5 days to review the City Staff report.

Here are the major issues based on the documents now in city hall.

Most notable is the planning request for a major variance of allowable rooms.

Code dictates a max of 80 rooms.

They want 112 rooms.

That’s a non-trivial 42 percent over code.

Note: The current Holiday Inn has 54 rooms (in a two-level structure) and 14 WEST Boutique has 14 rooms. Total now of 58 rooms.

If they get that variance, look for more massive hotels in Laguna Beach.

To achieve 112 or even 80 rooms will require multiple stories (they want four) and massive buildable lot coverage...over 90 percent. Thus, compromising Open Space requirements.

This is four stories plus roof equipment and will likely block residential ocean views that have existed for 70 years. Staking will define view obstruction.

Height variance? Still not defined.

Additional issues are: A rooftop pool, entertainment area, and rooftop bar and restaurant...meaning noise and light/illumination pollution.

Three-level underground parking for 200 plus cars entrance on Cleo...where Ralph’ driveway and truck delivery offloading is already an issue.

They have described this hotel as an “innovation “...yes, to maximize developer profits…bed tax...and tourist flow through.

No regard for residents, neighborhoods and the traditional old Laguna Beach feel and ethos.

It gives a new and negative definition to “commercial mansionization”, and negative impact of intensification.

Please inspect the site after it is staked (October 25), review the City Staff report to the Planning Commission (November 2) and attend the November 7 Planning Commission public meeting. 

And please, if you find any of this Cleo Project objectionable, speak up!

Or forever live with this travesty and more to come with this as being legally precedent setting.

Bob Brannon

Laguna Beach

Mayor Boyd responds to recent claims by Iseman

Candidate Toni Iseman is making outlandish claims that five local developers want to change the rules in Laguna, including raising the current building height limit above thirty-six feet. This is totally false! These developers are residents of Laguna Beach, just like you and me. Most of them only develop projects in other cities that would never be approved in Laguna Beach. Those that have redeveloped in Laguna are: Sam with the beautiful and iconic Heisler Building and Mo who has revitalized the Bartlett Center, now known as The Hive along with the re-opening of Tivoli Terrace on Festival grounds.

Toni is making false and misleading statements about developers supporting the “other candidates.” Joe, Greg, and Walky are big developers, all of whom are supporting and contributing to Toni’s campaign! Why the double standard? Joe and Greg, longtime residents and local philanthropists, are working on plans to restore Hotel Laguna as the centerpiece of our town. You may know Joe’s work in town; he reimagined the old Pottery Shack, now The Old Pottery Place which includes Sapphire restaurant, Laguna Books and other popular shops and properties! 

Neither group of developers has any intention of changing Laguna’s rules, or as Toni puts it, “Line their pockets and strip us of the rules that keep Laguna, Laguna!” These kinds of statements are simply fear mongering and irresponsible.

Take it for what it is – an untrue and unfair hit piece by Toni and her supporters, and a bad practice.

I support Sue Kempf, Peter Blake, and Cheryl Kinsman for City Council, to move Laguna forward with positive outcomes.

Kelly Boyd

Mayor of Laguna Beach

Friendship Shelter should be commended for its Housing First approach

Each of us has experience working as advisors to Friendship Shelter. We are dismayed at the way its Housing First approach has been mischaracterized in City Council candidate debates. We want to set the record straight.

Housing First was developed by a clinical psychologist and has been rigorously studied. It holds that housing is the best first step – and that sustained stability depends upon in-home support. The bottom line of Housing First is that housing is offered with few barriers. That’s because problems are more successfully addressed after people are safely housed.

The approach understands that addiction and mental illness are complex challenges, and protects our community from the risks associated with untreated drug, alcohol and mental health conditions among the homeless population. The bottom line is that communities are safer if people struggling with substance abuse are not left to wander our streets.

We understand and once shared the inclination to favor “zero tolerance” instead. But in working alongside staff to adopt these new methods, we’ve seen it work. We recognize that, as an organization focused on ending homelessness, Friendship Shelter’s role differs from that of a drug rehabilitation program or mental health institution. 

There’s no debating the results. The shelters are now open to vulnerable people who previously were not welcome. More are being housed. 94 percent of the people who live in Friendship Shelter’s housing program stay housed. Whereas before clients could be dismissed over a failed drug test, today they benefit from support as they work toward housing. 

No illegal activity of any kind is permitted. On-site use of drugs and alcohol at the shelters is prohibited. Behaviors that are symptomatic of drug or alcohol issues have consequences. Clients who express a desire to become or remain sober have on-site access to an addiction counselor and psychiatric services. 

Most anyone knows a person who abuses alcohol or drugs, and yet lives in their own home. Nationally, the overwhelming percentage of addicts live in their own homes.  To expect that homeless people must do the challenging and complex work of addressing an addiction before they are eligible for shelter or housing is to require something of them that we do not require of ourselves. 

We are dismayed that by adopting these nationally recognized best practices, Friendship Shelter has attracted unfair and unenlightened criticism from office seekers.  We are proud these proven solutions are being used in our community.

Ed Kaufman, M.D.

Kay Ostensen, M.F.T., Ph.D.

Karen Redding, L.C.S.W., Ph.D

Laguna Beach

Just who is Liberate Laguna? One resident’s viewpoint

Every decade or so, a group of developers and investment bankers come to Laguna to try to find a way to monetize our village. Liberate Laguna’s political action committee is the latest effort.

If you research who the primary 12 backers of this group are you may be shocked to find out what their individual development track record has been. Together, these 12 have contributed close to $100,000 to our election as of the last report. They are, for the most part, very wealthy individuals and corporations with a stated agenda of “liberating” our city council through major reform ( How will they achieve this? By packing it with candidates they believe will facilitate their commercial interests (see Blake and Kempf endorsements), and trying to push out at all costs a City Councilmember who has helped keep important checks and balances in place for this very reason, Toni Iseman.

You can do your own search. Here are some of the principal registered Liberate Laguna corporate supporters: 

--Shopoff Realty Investments

--Sanderson J Ray Development

--Radford Ventures, LLC


The amount of money being spent to support their endorsed candidates is not the issue. It’s a free country! But the ultimate objective to monetize public policy is. If Liberate Laguna’s endorsed candidates, Peter Blake and Sue Kempf, get elected and use their offices to change city rules and regulations that facilitate the destruction of our Village environment and historic heritage, Laguna Beach will never be the same. 

Imagine a “revitalized” downtown with three or four story buildings and designer stores. Imagine your nextdoor neighbor selling their house to a developer who builds a huge steel and glass mansion. Imagine a board that forces you to cut down your mature trees and decorative vegetation that provides beauty, privacy and shade. Or our streets full of hotels, bars and restaurants as traffic proliferates throughout our town. Imagine a city council that discourages resident participation in civic affairs. All this is possible if we are “Liberated”. 

This city council election could change Laguna Beach forever. Let’s protect what we love. Let’s vote for Toni Iseman and Ann Christoph and reject the monetization of our history.

Armando Baez

Laguna Beach

Be careful who you vote for

Many of us in town received the latest mailer from Ann Christoph, who is supported by Village Laguna. The slogan reads “We Know Our Town Best”. I wasn’t sure what that meant but I did have a chance to look up some information on the city’s website at  On this site one can find legal financial documents required to be filed by candidates who are running for public office. These documents must list the names of donors to the various candidates. What surprised me the most or maybe it didn’t were the names of folks who coincidentally have given to Ann Christoph and/or Toni Iseman. Many of the names I recognized from various community committees, including Heritage Committee – by the way there were no new members placed in this committee this go around in the Spring. Is that how one gets on these committees – donate? 

Earlier this year I watched the process in city hall as “new” members were added to vacant seats. Toni Iseman, Rob Zur Schmiede and I believe one other council member were in charge – however, Toni pretty much ran the meeting. There was little exchange done between many of the candidates especially those who were not selected and many walked away disappointed. I was disappointed as I had written several letters to encourage new folks to try to get on these committees and try to add new life to them. It seems as though some folks have made a career out of being on these committees, especially Village Laguna members.

No wonder there is such a division in this town – many of us are fed up with the “same players playing the same tune” in this town. 

Some of these donors are writing letters to the editors and you can see now why: they are backing Christoph/Iseman. I sincerely hope that those who tried to crack the code to get into some of these committees will try again. I hope that voters will see through this veil of “We Know Our Town Best” which Christoph states.

I suspect some of the things on the agenda if they get into office – change ordinances about views, trees (notice nobody is saying the word eucalyptus in this campaign), and the word heritage, which is a totally subjective term.

Be careful who you vote for – don’t go down that slippery slope to la la land. 

Ganka Brown

Laguna Beach

Page 13 of 38